For the last few years, Call of Duty has been nothing if not predictable. A new year, a new game. A new game, a few premium-rate DLC packs. We know the formula by now. We buy the DLC, we mourn our kill/death ratio as we learn the new maps, we wonder if the 1200 moon dollars were worth it and then we pretend we’re better than Call of Duty and resolve to only spend money on arty Live Arcade games in which nothing really happens. That’s the cycle. Or at least it was. Modern Warfare 3’s Collection 1 might just change your mind about Call of Duty DLC.
Having fiendishly monetised its flagship shooter, the pressure is on Activision to justify its premium Elite model. Eliters have been drip-fed the new content since January and now, on Xbox 360 at least, the non-believers can see what all the fuss is about. And it’s worth a fuss. The Collection 1 pack oozes quality with four all new multiplayer maps and, for the co-op enthusiast, two new Spec Ops jaunts.
Of the new maps, the standout is undoubtedly Piazza. Set in a hilly Mediterranean seaside village, Piazza is as warm and colourful as it is thoughtfully-arranged. With almost all of the action taking place outside, the map’s tight, curving streets, alleyways and small squares favour medium-to-short range weaponry. Snipers - or, rather, snipers who don’t employ the filthy quick-scope technique - will likely struggle on a map with few long sight-lines and many, many flanking routes. ARs and SMGs rule on Piazza and, in Domination mode especially, the map channels players towards some devious multi-level choke points. Point A, for example, is ruthlessly positioned in a small, partially-open square with at least three routes in, making defensive grenades particularly effective. Or, indeed, pad-smashingly frustrating, if you’re the attacker.
As a counterpoint to Piazza, the Collection 1 pack offers up a couple of gifts to snipers in the form of Liberation and Blackbox. The former is set in New York’s Central Park and recalls MW2’s Wasteland, with a central hedge and river bed/tunnel section just about obscuring the sniper’s view from one side of the map to the other. Nevertheless, the focus is firmly on ranged action and, if you’re not rocking a scope (or, indeed, a sixth sense for detecting ghillie-suited assassins), you can expect to come off worse in most enemy encounters. With only the small central tunnel section to cower in when the bombs start falling, you’ll need to keep one eye on the sky as air support can dominate in this open setting.
Blackbox is equally-sniper friendly with four multi-tiered buildings surrounding the downed wreckage of Air Force one. Smart (read ‘cowardly’) players like myself will prefer to stick to the periphery in this large arena, although Sledgehammer/Infinity Ward has cleverly ensured that players will need to brave the plane for the sake of the team in the objective-based game modes. While it’s the most visually-pleasing of all the new maps (barring possibly the sunny joys of Piazza), it’s also the most likely to frustrate with a huge array of sniper spots offering skilled marksmen the opportunity to rack up some serious killstreaks. And then inevitably drop them on your head. As they do so frequently.
The fourth new map, Overwatch, is set atop an unfinished NYC skyscraper with spectacular views of the city. The most symmetrical of the new maps, in Overwatch the action takes place across two levels with routes around the perimeter connected by a central bridge. Can you guess where flag B can be found in Domination? As well as having to keep an eye on your footing (falling off the building isn’t difficult), you’ll have to watch your back (as well as above/below) as the map offers quick flanking routes and some sneaky spots overlooking B. Again, Overwatch demonstrates the developer’s skill at map arrangement with the curvature of the flanks meaning you won’t have to worry too much about being picked off from range, encouraging some fierce mid to short range battles.
What is most impressive about this new selection of maps is the intricacy of design – not only do they add some colour and visual interest to the MW3 roster, they feel well-considered. Sight lines, choke points and objective placement have clearly been analysed in detail and there’s a definite sense of quality about this first selection of new maps. This is echoed in the two new Spec Ops missions, Black Ice and Negotiator which we’ll be discussing in an Arabic Gamers special feature next week. Suffice to say, the new missions maintain the quality of MW3’s brilliant Spec Ops campaign (which deserves far more acclaim than it generally receives) and avoid that ‘afterthought’ feel of some of the co-op competition. I will mention no names. Except Battlefield 3.
It’s hard not to be impressed by the standard of Activision’s first DLC pack for what many shooter purists perceive to be a franchise past its best. Whether it will be successful in luring more players into buying Elite subscriptions – sorry, persuading their parents to buy Elite subscriptions – is another question. Nevertheless it suggests that Activision intends to support Modern Warfare 3 with quality content. *Cough* at least until November *cough*.